At 18 months old, Judith Heumann contracted polio and began to rely on a wheelchair for mobility. At five years old, she was told she couldn't attend school because she was a "fire hazard."
Thus her early schooling was limited to home instruction twice a week for about an hour.
Judith and her family fought fiercely for the education she deserved, and she was finally able to enter a special school in her 4th grade year. When it was time for her to enter high school, her family had to fight yet again for her inclusion--and ultimately won.
These experiences stayed with Judith, and her passion for disability advocacy took off when she entered college. There, amongst other students with disabilities, she found community and commonality in the challenges and discrimination they faced each and every day.
So she organized protests and rallies with other students with and without disabilities, demanding access to classrooms via ramps, the right to live in the dorms, and other accommodations that would allow her and others to receive the education they deserved.
After graduation and receiving her degree in speech therapy, the New York Board of Education refused her a teaching license, citing that it "did not believe she could get herself or her students out of the building in case of a fire."
Judith sued, and under immense social and media pressure, the Board agreed to settle out of court and ultimately granted her her teaching license, making her the first teacher in NYC who used a wheelchair.
After three years of teaching, Heumann set her sights on disability advocacy once again, and began her amazing, decades-long career as one of our nation's fiercest, most effective disability and civil rights advocates.
Her resume includes:
- Serving as the First Special Advisor for the International Disability Rights a the US State Department during the Obama Administration
- Director for the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia, where she was responsible for the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration
- The World Bank's first Adviser on Disability and Development, working to expand the Bank’s knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on including disability in the global conversation
- Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education during the Clinton Administration.
- She was also responsible for the implementation of legislation at the national level for programs in special education, disability research, vocational rehabilitation and independent living, serving more than 8 million youth and adults with disabilities.
To get just a glimpse of the passion and dedication Judith and her immense body of work exudes, check out her TED Talk below.
Judith was truly a pioneer of pioneers. Her indefatigable efforts to make the world a more inclusive, equitable place for EVERYONE changed the lives of countless people the world over. Her work inspires us each and every day to never give up on our vision--a vision, with your help--we know we can achieve!
If you are inspired to show your support, we hope you'll give $18 in honor of the day Judith was born, which is TODAY, Dec. 18th.